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USC players ready to put defense up against anyone

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LOS ANGELES (AP)

Those who hail Southeastern Conference teams as having the strongest defenses in the nation don't phase USC safety T.J. McDonald.

''I wouldn't say we're at the SEC level, I would say we're at the `SC level,'' McDonald, one of the Trojans' captains, said Thursday. ''I think we're just fine.''

Fellow safety Jawanza Starling agreed.

''I believe we can play with any offense in the country and our defense can be as good as we make it,'' he said.

In four days of training camp, the Trojans' defensive backs have registered interception after interception, along with a slew of pass deflections, stripped catches and pass breakups.

Head coach Lane Kiffin said it's the best he's ever seen his secondary play and credits new position coach Marvin Sanders for the recent success.

''He's done a great job. It doesn't have to do with anybody who was here before, this is the best I've seen our defensive backs play,'' Kiffin said. ''When (Sanders) was at Nebraska, I think they led the country at one point in takeaways, so he knows what he's doing and I'm glad that he's here. I can see the players have responded to him on and off the field.''

Anthony Brown, who broke his ankle last season, has been working with the first team opposite All-Pac-12 first team cornerback Nickell Robey. Brown believes they've been doing little things this offseason that have made all the difference.

''We're calling up meetings coaches don't even want us having but we have them anyway. It's not a mandatory meeting, everybody just texts each other and we come in an hour before practice. That's why we're looking better,'' Brown said.

''We're just so comfortable with the defense,'' McDonald said. ''We're starting to ask questions that we never would have asked before, starting to do things that we've never done before and just starting to see the defense in a different way, as a whole group, not just a few guys.''

Beyond the talent, the Trojans have plenty of depth at both cornerback and safety. With the addition of two experienced safeties in top-junior college prospect Gerald Bowman and Florida transfer Josh Shaw, the Trojans will be able to rotate fluidly if the first-team defense dominates early in games.

Even new cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Devian Shelton have made waves in their first weeks donning the cardinal-and-gold. Both freshmen are beginning to digest the playbook and seem to quickly correct their mistakes.

The defense has looked so dominant in the first week of camp you'd forget that all the hype was about its offense, led by quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods.

''From this stance of when Coach Kiffin came in, (our secondary has) been the best it's been,'' Starling said. ''A lot more guys know what they're doing and they know the culture, how hard to practice and what is expected out of them.''

Brown said USC might not be in the SEC, but they are still USC. And if history has any say in the matter, past Trojans defenses prove that the conference you play in doesn't really matter, as long as you play well.

''The chemistry of the defense - we're just bonding more,'' he said. ''Because we represent the Trojan family, past and present.''

Tagged: USC, T.J. McDonald, Matt Barkley, Anthony Brown

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